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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

My cat, Buster, is a five-year old Bengal. I got him when he was about a year old and he was in very poor health; he was too skinny, he had ear mites and eye “boogers,” and he wasn’t neutered. I got all of that taken care of immediately, and the vet cleaned his teeth, but his breath got bad after a while. I took him back for another dental cleaning, but after about a month his breath started to stink again. I have another cat, Moses, and they both eat the same thing — 75% dry food and 25% canned. Moses’ breath is absolutely fine, and it always has been. I tried some homeopathic breath drops on Buster, but he just foams and the mouth and spits it out. He really hates it! It cost prohibitive for me to get his teeth cleaned every month or so. What do you think is going on?

~ John

Bengal cat on fleece blanket

Fia the Bengal cat by Marius Engesrønning. Released into the public domain, 2006

Siouxsie: Bad breath can have many causes, John, and the most common of these is dental disease. We hope that your vet took a good look at Buster’s mouth while he was unconscious for his cleaning, and eliminated any dental-related issues.

Thomas: But cats’ breath can stink for other reasons including chronic infections. Mama says that humans can get bad breath if they have sinus infections or tonsilitis. If Buster came to you with an upper respiratory infection, he may not have fully fought it off. We’d recommend asking your vet if this is a possibility.

Kissy: Bad breath can also be caused by gastrointestinal problems. If Buster has a tummy bug or if there’s an obstruction like a hairball or a growth, this may lead to stinky breath.

Siouxsie: So there are lots of possible causes, John, and because we’re not vets, the only thing we can suggest is that you take Buster to your vet and ask what might be causing this problem.

Thomas: Cats shouldn’t have stinky breath, and their mouths certainly shouldn’t reek a month after a dental cleaning!

Kissy: As for the homeopathic breath drops, the ones we looked up certainly had plenty of very bitter ingredients that would make a kitty foam at the mouth. Yecch!

Siouxsie: If your vet gives Buster a thorough exam and doesn’t find anything organic that could be causing his bad breath, you may want to learn how to brush his teeth. It’s a lot less expensive than a dental cleaning!

Thomas: This video from Cornell University Vet School’s Partners in Animal Health Program provides a four-week program to get your cat used to having his teeth brushed.

Kissy: Don’t you get any ideas, Mama! *hiss*

Siouxsie: Bad breath can be a sign of certain serious health problems. John, we’re sure this isn’t the case with Buster, especially since he’s been having regular vet visits, but we want to share this information for the benefit of our other readers.

Thomas: A cat with very sweet or fruity breath — or possibly, breath that smells like nail polish remover — may have diabetes.

Kissy: A cat whose breath smells like pee may have kidney disease.

Siouxsie: An unusually foul odor accompanied by vomiting, lack of appetite, and yellow-tinged eyes and/or gums could signal a liver problem.

Thomas: We hope this helps, John, and please let us know how you and Buster are doing.